ABOVE PHOTO: This combination of photos shows promotional art for the films nominated for an Oscar for best picture, top row from left, “Belfast,” “CODA,” Don’t Look Up,” Drive My Car,” Dune,” bottom row from left, “King Richard,” Licorice Pizza,” “Nightmare Alley,” “The Power of the Dog,” and “West Side Story.” (Focus Features/Apple TV+, Netflix, Janus Films & Sideshow, Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Searchlight Pictures, Netflix, 20th Century Films via AP)
By Jake Coyle
NEW YORK — After a pandemic year that hobbled movie theaters and saw streaming services make new inroads into Hollywood, the Academy Awards put its strongest support Tuesday behind two films made with big-screen grandeur that were also streamed into homes: Jane Campion’s gothic western “The Power of the Dog” and Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic “Dune.”
Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog” led nominations to the 94th Academy Awards with 12 nods, including best picture, best director and recognition for all of its top actors: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Campion, a nominee for 1993’s “The Piano,” became the first woman to ever be nominated twice for best director. Last year, Chloé Zhao became just the second woman to ever win the award. Campion’s director of photography, Ari Wegner, also became the second woman ever nominated for best cinematography.
“Dune” followed closely behind with 10 nominations spread out largely in the technical categories that rewarded the gargantuan craft of Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, yet unexpectedly bypassed Villeneuve’s direction. The Warner Bros. release debuted simultaneously in theaters and — against the strenuous objections of its director — on HBO Max.
With “The Power of the Dog” and “Dune,” the nominees for best picture were: “Belfast,” “CODA,” “Don’t Look Up,” “Drive My Car,” “Licorice Pizza,” “King Richard,” “Nightmare Alley” and “West Side Story.”
No streaming service has ever won best picture, but half of the 10 nominees were released by streamers. This year, the odds may be better than ever that Netflix — which led all studios with 27 nominations — or another service will finally break through.
Apple TV+ notched its first best-picture nomination with the deaf drama “CODA,” which also made history as supporting-actor nominee Troy Kotsur became only the second deaf actor ever nominated. (His “CODA” co-star Marlee Matlin was the first.) Netflix backed “The Power of the Dog” and Adam McKay’s apocalyptic comedy “Don’t Look Up.” And both “King Richard” and “Dune” launched on HBO Max. Even the academy for the first time ruled out hard-copy DVD screeners for its members, who instead could watch submissions on the academy’s streaming platform.
In pulling from films released in myriad ways, the Oscar nominations reflected the tumult of a movie year that began with many theaters shuttered and ended with Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man: No Way Home” smashing box-office records. While some had urged the Oscars to embrace its most popular blockbusters and return some populism to the awards, Spidey ultimately landed only a single nomination, for visual effects.
A largely virtual awards season added some unpredictability to the nominations. The Oscars, set for March 27, are later than usual. A return to their usual venue, the Dolby Theatre, is planned.
And there were surprises all around. Lady Gaga, star of “House of Gucci,” was overlooked in the uber-competitive best actress category. Nominated instead were Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”), Olivia Colman (“The Lost Daughter”), Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers”), Nicole Kidman (“Being the Ricardos”) and Kristen Stewart for “Spencer” — whose hopes for her first Oscar nomination were set back after she was snubbed by the Screen Actors Guild.
“Drive My Car,” Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s masterful three-hour drama, scored major nominations including best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay. The academy, which in 2020 made Bong Joon Ho’s Korean thriller “Parasite” the best picture winner, has drifted overseas in recent years, as more international members have been added to help diversify the organization.
Other underdogs celebrated, too. The small, remote Himalayan country Bhutan received its first Oscar nomination in its first-ever submission: “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” for best international film.
In many ways, the nominations kept one foot in Hollywood’s past and one in its future. Steven Spielberg, whose “West Side Story” landed seven nominations, became the first filmmaker nominated for best director in six different decades. His 11 best picture nominations are the most ever. Another remake that harkened back to another era of the movie industry, Guillermo del Toro’s carnival noir “Nightmare Alley,” fared better than expected, scoring a best picture nomination over streaming titles like Netflix’s “tick, tick … Boom!” and Amazon’s “Being the Ricardos.” No release is more old-school than Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza,” nominated for Anderson’s direction and screenplay. It has slowly expanded in theaters over the last 10 weeks.
Will Smith, who plays the father of Venus and Serena Williams in “King Richard,” notched his third Oscar nomination. Also up for best actor are Cumberbatch, Andrew Garfield (“tick, tick … Boom!”) Javier Bardem (“Being the Ricardos”) and Denzel Washington (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”). Washington, a seven-time best-actor nominee, remains the most-nominated Black man ever.
Dunst and Plemons, who have two children together, shared their first nominations.
“I knew I’d have so much more joy if we were both nominated,” Dunst, who had once predicted “a lot of shrimps” for “The Power of the Dog,” said by phone Tuesday. “It’s like a storybook, like a fairytale. It feels very special. I thought, it would be really cute if they did that. I felt like a grandma about it.
The other couple celebrating Tuesday was Bardem and Cruz, whom Dunst granted are “definitely the sexier couple.”
“We’re pretty fun, though,” she added.
Along with Dunst, the nominees for best supporting actress were a trio of first-timers — Jessie Buckley (“The Lost Daughter”), Aunjanue Ellis (“King Richard”) and Ariana DeBose, in the “West Side Story” role Rita Moreno won for 1962 — and one veteran: Judi Dench. She earned her eighth Oscar nod for her performance in Kenneth Branagh’s black-and-white family drama “Belfast.”
“Belfast,” which Branagh based on his own childhood, received seven nominations, including best director for Branagh and best supporting actor for Dench’s “Belfast” husband, Ciarán Hinds. The film was one of the first shot in Britain after lockdown in 2021.
“We spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on COVID protection,” said Branagh. “We relished the opportunity to do this so much. Nobody knew then if there was even going to be a film industry when we were done.”
“Ricardos” co-star J.K. Simmons rounded out the best supporting actor category that saw Kotsur make history.
“I feel a bit lighter. This chip is off my shoulder,” Kotsur said Tuesday through an interpreter. “It’s like a step forward for everyone.”
With $400 million in worldwide ticket sales, “Dune” is the biggest box-office hit in the best-picture race, but McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” could make the case for being the most-watched nominee. Netflix counts it as its second-most popular movie ever with some 359,790,000 hours watched, according to the company.
“No Time to Die,” one of the most successful blockbusters of the pandemic but still a possible money-loser for MGM, came away with three nominations including the sixth Bond theme nominated for best song. The Billie Eilish title-track will have to best Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster “Encanto” soundtrack and its best-song nominee “Dos Oruguitas.” Beyoncé also scored her first Oscar nomination for “Be Alive,” from “King Richard.”
“Encanto” also landed in the best animated feature category which is especially competitive this year. The other nominees are Pixar’s “Luca,” Netflix’s “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Flee,” the first documentary ever nominated in the category. The Danish animated documentary by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, about an Afghan migrant sharing his story for the first time, was also nominated for best documentary and best international film.
Also nominated for best documentary were “Attica,” “Ascension,” “Writing With Fire” and the category favorite, “Summer of Soul (Or… When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” Questlove’s documentary chronicles the 1969 Harlem Culture Festival and its long-buried legacy.
“My only intention with this film was to restore history,” said Questlove.
Joining “Flee,” “Drive My Car” and “Lunana” in the best international film category were Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God” (Italy) and Joachim Trier’s Norwegian thirtysomething drama “The Worst Person in the World,” which also earned a best original screenplay nomination.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will hope Tuesday’s nominees can help lift its ABC telecast, which last year featured a socially distanced ceremony at Los Angeles’ Union Station. Ratings plummeted to an all-time low of 9.85 million viewers.
This year, the academy has yet to map out plans for its show, except that it will include a host for the first time since 2018.
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